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Eyeball Scout Bullish On Gray’s Return

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Minnesota Twins
“Nyah nyah, Eyeball Scout likes me, nyah nyah!”
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Eyeball Scout did not enjoy the 3 homeruns, no he didn’t. He did not like them on a boat, he did not like them with a goat (ok, maybe one). In his house, or on a mouse, or with Richard Strauss, the Eyeball Scout did not enjoy, endorse, enlist, or in en-y other way feel warm and fuzzy about the 3 homeruns.

That being said, the Eyeball Scout thought Sonny Gray looked pretty electric overall, far more akin to the Gray of 2015 than the one who gave up crooked numbers far too often in 2016. He did make three location mistakes and he paid a dear price for each one, but if he came out of his first start healthy I see good things in Sonny’s 2017 future.

First off his fastball had a lot of life, often whistling through the air with a little whiffle ball action. When thrown down in the zone as it should be, Gray’s fastball also had its signature late sinking action and produced many weak ground balls fair and foul.

Gray’s curve was also impressive, snapping off sharply both in and out of the strike zone. He bounced a couple and hung the one to Brian Dozier, but mostly showed excellent command of it. He didn’t throw his changeup more than once in a blue moon, but I recall one and it was a beaut.

So where did Sonny go wrong? All three HRs came on pitches up in the strike zone, right over the middle of the plate -- pretty much the worst place you can throw a pitch. Sonny in particular needs to be down in the zone because he gets such great late diving action on his fastball. Up in the zone he is like any other pitcher, and any other pitcher will also get whiplash watching the results of pectoral high, center cut fastballs or curves.

For the first two innings, though, Gray looked nothing short of electric, and he finished strong as well. In between, some location mistakes not aided by a 4-pitch walk, the last two pitches of which should have been called strikes (thanks, Mike Winters for missing both of them, thanks Stephen Vogt, for clanking the last one).

If Gray brings this stuff to his next few starts, I predict we will be enjoying his renaissance and partying like it’s 2015. I thought he had his "old Sonny Gray" stuff and we have seen first-hand the results this can yield.

More Eyeball Scouting At No Extra Charge!

Stephen Vogt

On the flip side, if the A’s want to push back towards the .500 mark and stay relevant, as they hit the 6-week mark (teams often take stock of their team around mid-May) the A’s really need to relegate Stephen Vogt to the role of "third catcher, pinch hitter, and super-terrific clubhouse leader".

I love Vogt, both personally and for the contributions he has made to A’s teams of yore, but he continues to show signs of "aging beyond repair"...After tonight’s game, Vogt has a slash line of .212/.232/.318, which is a low bar for Bruce Maxwell to surpass. So much for Vogt’s resolve to draw more walks this year.

But it’s watching Vogt, not perusing his stat life, that shows how dire the decline may be. Many of Vogt’s hits lately have been to LF, such as tonight’s ground ball poked past the dive of 3Bman Miguel Sano. That’s not a hitter driving the ball, it’s a hitter who can’t drive the ball finding a way to succeed. Think David Justice at the end of his career, when he transitioned from being a dangerous power hitter his whole career to one who could poke a single to LF now and then.

Then there are at bats like Vogt’s final one tonight, when he looked to drive the ball, dragged the bat through the zone, and lifted a lazy routine fly ball to CF. (The previous at bat he flied to LF.) Next you will probably see Vogt start to "cheat" on fastballs, making him even more vulnerable to off speed pitches. Nobody beats Father Time.

Any chance for the A’s to stay relevant will likely coincide with Maxwell taking over the bulk of the A’s catching. Maxwell is the only one of the A’s three catchers whose pitch calling gives me confidence. He is known as an excellent pitch framer, in contrast to his esteemed colleagues, and at the plate he will almost certainly walk more — and let’s face it, he would have to struggle quite a bit to bat or slug any worse.

Maxwell and Barreto, if up by the end of May, could make the A’s a whole lot more athletic and talented in the lineup to support a pitching staff with enough talent to keep the team competitive. I love Vogt, but at this stage of his career if he’s starting at catcher 4 days a week the A’s are in trouble.

Ryon Healy

Would someone please walk up to Ryon Healy and gently move him a couple inches closer to the plate so he can hit well again? I realize that as he closes his stance, Healy squares up a bit closer but if you watch his at bats you see that Healy has set himself up such that he has to reach for the pitch on the outside corner.

The result is that Healy can’t center balls away — he is consistently lifting fly balls to RF and CF and slamming his bat down in frustration — and pitchers are not forced to come inside.

Healy might worry that if he stands closer to the plate he will get jammed by pitches inside. First off Healy is very quick on inside pitches, but even if he gets beaten inside now and again you want to make pitchers beat you inside. Why? Because the margin for error is razor thin on the inner half. A location mistake of an inch or two becomes, well, the pitch we saw A’s pitchers throw 6 times tonight. There is more margin for error on the outside corner.

Watch where Khris Davis sets up in the batter’s box and compare it to Healy. Davis covers the outside corner beautifully, able to cover the outside corner and daring pitchers to find the G-spot sized hole on the inside corner. I feel like Healy is an inch or two away from busting out. Could someone perhaps help him to help himself?

1-6 road trips are not any fun. Could the A’s please win the last two games of this road trip? Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation.